This FAQ answers some of the frequently asked questions about internet censorship and filtering in New Zealand. There is also a Technical FAQ that contains more in-depth information about how the system works.
DIA – Department of Internal Affairs
OIA – Official Information Act
ISP – Internet Service Provider (e.g. Telecom/Xtra)
Internet address – same as IP address.
Does New Zealand have internet censorship?
New Zealand’s censorship laws forbid viewing or owning certain types of material (e.g. depictions of bestiality or sex with children) and this applies to material accessed over the internet too. A number of people have been convicted for possessing material they have downloaded over the internet.
Does New Zealand have internet filtering?
Yes. The Department of Internal Affairs ran a trial internet filtering scheme in conjunction with Ihug, Watchdog, Maxnet and TelstraClear from May 2007 to September 2008.
The system is now running with Watchdog joining it on 1st February 2010, and Maxnet on 26th February 2010. Other ISPs are being invited to join.
Which ISPs use the filter?
Check out our list.
What does it cost?
The Department of Internal Affairs has budgeted an additional $617,000 for Censorship Enforcement Activities for the 2009/2010 financial year. This includes $150,000 for the internet filtering software.
The Internet connection used by the filtering system costs $2000/month.
Three people will be employed maintaining the system (although they might have other duties too).
Other costs include include the computer hardware, the time used to implement the scheme, and the work and costs incurred by the ISPs.
Who decided to implement internet filtering in New Zealand?
The decision was made within the Department of Internal Affairs.
Has an internet filtering law been passed?
No the Department of Internal Affairs claims it has authority under the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993. This Act mentions the internet exactly once, in the glossary.
The scheme is currently voluntary for the ISPs (Internet Service Providers) as there is no law to force them to use it.
How does the filtering work?
- A list of banned sites and their internet addresses is maintained by the Department of Internal Affairs.
- The DIA then use a routing protocol to tell the participating ISPs (Internet Service Providers) that the ‘best’ way to the internet address of the banned site’s web server is through the DIA’s filtering server.
- When a person tries to access a site (banned or not) on one of the filtered addresses, their ISP knows to divert the request to the DIA’s server.
- The DIA’s filtering server then looks at the request. If it is to a banned site, the request is refused and a message is sent back to the person. If it is to a non-banned site, the DIA’s filtering server passes the request on to the real server through the DIA’s internet connection.
See the Technical FAQ for more information.
What system are they using to do the filtering?
The software is Netclean Whitebox.
What happens if I go to a banned site?
You will see a message saying that access to the site has been banned. Your internet address will be logged. This will be able to be tracked back to your internet account.
There is a link on the page that allows you to submit an objection to that website being blocked. There is no way to enter your own information and therefore you will not get a reply.
The DIA say that the filter will not be used for law enforcement.
What happens if there are multiple sites on a server and only one of them is banned?
The filter is applied at the level of the internet address but it is common for a web server to host multiple websites on a single internet address. All requests to any of the sites on one of the filtered internet addresses will be diverted to the DIA’s server.
The DIA’s filtering server then looks at the request. If it is to a banned site, the request is refused and a message is sent back to the person. If it is to a non-banned site, the DIA’s filtering server passes the request on to the real web server through the DIA’s internet connection.
Does the filtering work with HTTPS (secure HTTP)?
HTTPS (secure HTTP) is used for security on sites that need it for services such as internet banking and online shopping.
HTTPS requests can’t be examined by the filter server (because they use encryption for the security). This means that all HTTPS traffic to an internet address that has any banned content (possibly for a completely different website) will be passed through the filter.
What happens if the website has a mixture of legal and illegal content?
It is possible to filter down to the level of folders or even individual documents and images on a website. E.g. you could filter http://www.website.com/badcontent but allow http://www.website.com/goodcontent
Will internet filtering slow down the internet?
Due to the way the filtering is implemented there should be no performance issues with any sites that are hosted on web servers that do not have any banned sites.
Visits to non-banned sites on the same servers as banned sites will have to go through the DIA’s filter server and will then be forwarded out to the real server through the DIA’s internet connection. This will have some impact on performance, although the extent will largely depend on how good the performance of the DIA’s filter is, and whether they have enough internet bandwidth to be able to service the requests they pass through.
Will internet filtering cause problems for the NZ internet?
If the filter is implemented properly, is never hacked, is well administered and has no reliability issues it shouldn’t cause any major problems with the NZ internet.
Does the internet filter only apply to web browsing or does it apply to other traffic as well?
All traffic (web, email, P2P, etc) for a filtered internet address will be forwarded to the DIA’s server.
All non-web Internet traffic will be forwarded through the filter to the destination site.
Does the filter automatically detect objectionable material?
No, the website must be manually added to the filter list.
What type of material is censored?
The trial scheme was used to filter child pornography including video, photos, and text articles. Other illegal material (as defined by New Zealand law) is not filtered.
What is the process for a site to be added to the filtering list?
The Censorship Compliance Unit within the Department of Internal Affairs has developed a list of over 500 sites with child pornography. All sites added to the list have a report that identifies the investigating officer and what they saw on the site.
The DIA says that new sites are added to the list by the agreement of 3 or more warranted inspectors of publications, and that the list is reviewed monthly by a manual process to ensure it is up-to-date.
Are there any guidelines that describe the administration of the internet filtering system?
There is no legislation to define how the filter should be administered.
The Department of Internal Affairs has created a Code of Practice (PDF) that provides some guidelines on the operation of the filter.
How can the Code of Practice be modified?
The IRG can “institute a review or amendment of the code at any time”.
The Department will review the Code of Practice with the IRG annually.
Will there be any oversight of the operation of the filter?
The Code of Practice specifies that there will will be an Independent Reference Group to:
“The general function of the IRG is to maintain oversight of the operation of the Digital Child Exploitation Filtering System to ensure it is operated with integrity and adheres to the principles set down in this Code of Practice.”
They will meet a few times a year and are expected to produce an annual report.
Who are the members of the Independent Reference Group?
The initial members of the Independent Reference Group are:
- Nic McCully – Deputy Chief Censor
- Nic Johnstone – Office of the Children’s Commissioner
- Steve O’Brien – Manager, Censorship Compliance Unit, Department of Internal Affairs
- Mark Harris – Independent
- Andrew Bowater – Government Relations Manager, Telecom
How independent is the Independent Reference Group?
The Independent Reference Group includes Steve O’Brien, the manager of the Censorship Compliance Unit. This unit is responsible for implementing and operating the internet filter.
Will the Independent Reference Group get to see the list of filtered sites?
The Code of Practice states that “All additions and deletions to the filtering list will be reported to the next meeting of the IRG”.
Is the list of banned sites available?
The Department of Internal Affairs has refused to release the list of banned sites. They claim that they are allowed to do so under section 6 (c) of the Official Information Act. This allows them to refuse on the grounds that the release would be “likely to prejudice the maintenance of the law, including the prevention, investigation, and detection of offences, and the right to a fair trial”.
This can be contrasted with the legal responsibility that the Chief Censor has to publish their decisions to ban films and publications.
The Ombudsman has upheld the DIA’s decision not to release the list.
Is it possible to check whether a website is on the filtered list?
The only way to check whether the website is filtered is by attempting to access it.
If a website is filtered is it possible to find out why?
Can a website block be appealed?
The “this website is blocked” screen includes a link to anonymously request that the website be checked.
Can other types of material be censored in the future?
There is no technical reason why the same technology could not be extended to block websites with other types of content.
Apparently the NetClean software is contractually restricted to only being used to block child pornography.
Does the filter censor by content as well as by address?
No, the system is only used to restrict access to individual websites. If the same or similar material is published on a different website it will be available until the new website is added to the list.
Is the scheme really voluntary?
ISPs can choose whether to subscribe to it or not.
Many of the smaller ISPs receive their internet connection through one of the larger ISPs. It is probable that these smaller ISPs will be forced to offer filtered traffic if their upstream ISP does so.
How many ISPs already offer their own optional filtering?
21% of ISPs offer web content filtering as a free service, another 16% offer web content filtering for an additional charge. (Source: Statistics NZ)
Can people choose to opt out of the internet filtering?
The only way to opt-out of the filtering is by switching to an ISP that doesn’t implement it. ISPs that have implemented it so far have not provided a way to opt out of it.
However, it is not technically difficult to circumvent the filtering by using an internet proxy in another country.
How does the New Zealand filter compare to the proposed Australian internet filter?
The Australian filter will be used to block many types of “Refused Classification” content including information about euthanasia, R18 games, and “perverted” sexual material.
The Australian filter is mandatory for all Australian ISPs.
The Australian filter will be implemented by a law passed in the Australian parliament.
Are there any groups dedicated to stopping the filter?
Tech Liberty has taken a strong stand against the filter and has published a number of articles about it.
There is no specific group formed to campaign against it. Yet.
This FAQ is in the public domain. As the FAQ is continually being updated as new information comes to light, I suggest including a link back to it if you use any part of it.
Last updated 16/03/2010